Bluejays come up just short in NAIA first round

Tonisha Dean shoots for three during the second half of Tabor?s first-round contest against Northwestern in the 2014 NAIA Division II Women?s Basketball National Championship. Dean led Tabor with 14 points in the Bluejays? 63-62 loss. The eighth-seeded Tabor College women?s basketball team was one point away from knocking off top-seeded Northwestern (Iowa) Thursday in the first round of the 2014 NAIA Division II women?s basketball national championships, but fell 63-62 in the end.

Trailing by six, 59-53, with 3:23 left in the game, Tabor scored nine straight points courtesy of Nikki Lewis, Tonisha Dean and Tena Loewen to take a three-point lead with just 1:29 to play.

The Red Raiders added a free throw, but then two Bluejay three-point attempts missed their mark.

Northwestern called timeout with 17.6 seconds left. Alli Engebretson?s attempt at a tying two-point basket missed, but the Red Raiders managed to retain possession and took another timeout with 3.1 seconds left.

Karen Hutson made the tying basket in the paint with just 1 second remaining, and Janelle Rust was charged with a foul. Hutson completed the three-point play to give the Red Raiders the victory.

?We felt like we got a stop and got a rebound, and they called a jump ball on the rebound, so that?s how (Northwestern) got the ball out of bounds,? coach Shawn Reed said of the final seconds. ?We were just trying to take away their top two players, and we did that, but one of their other players snuck in behind.

?It was extremely disappointing considering I thought we outplayed them.?

Three-point shooting kept Tabor within reach early, as 15 of the Bluejays? first 19 points came from behind the arc?three from Mallory Zuercher, one from Rust and one from Kaleigh Troxell? giving Tabor a five-point lead at the 13:41 mark.

The Bluejays maintained a narrow advantage, but Northwestern chipped away with baskets in the paint and took a 24-23 lead with two points inside from Hutson.

The lead changed hands with every score until Kayla Wilgers drained a three and Rust followed with three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt for a 31-27 Tabor advantage at 5:03.

A burst of nine unanswered points put the Red Raiders ahead by five with 2:07 left before intermission, but Troxell closed the half with consecutive two-point and three-point baskets to send the teams into halftime locked at 36.

Northwestern scored 20 points in the paint in the first half, while 21 of Tabor?s first-half points came from behind the arc.

Tabor shot 39.4 percent from the field in the first half (13-33), including 38.9 percent from behind the arc (7-18).

Tabor?s shooting cooled in both statistical categories, however, after the break.

After a quiet first half, Tonisha Dean got on the board by scoring Tabor?s first seven points of the second half, and when Zuercher tossed in a basket, the Bluejays held a 45-40 lead. But a spell of chilly Bluejay shooting contributed to a 10-0 Red Raider run. The Bluejay scoring drought lasted more than six minutes, until Wilgers broke the ice with a three-pointer that closed the gap to 50-48 at the 11:15 mark.

From there, Northwestern built its largest lead of the half, 55-48. Nikki Lewis scored her first points of the game on a three-point play with 8:01 to play and when Dean added a basket, Tabor was within two, 55-53.

Neither team added to the score for more than three minutes, as the Bluejays forced Red Raider turnovers but could not capitalize at the other end of the court.

Northwestern increased its lead to six with two free throws and a basket, but Tabor claimed the advantage with a burst of nine straight points.

Those were Tabor?s final points of the day, however, and the Red Raiders snuck away with the one-point win.

?No one in that gym thought that we could beat Northwestern, a team that?s won five national tournaments,? Reed said. ?An eight-seed has never beat a one-seed, and we almost made history.

?We really felt like if we could win that first game, that we had a chance to really do something special.?

Despite the final outcome, Reed was pleased with his team?s efforts.

?I told them to keep their heads up,? he said. ?They had nothing to be ashamed of. We played a really good game. (Northwestern) averages 90 points a game. We held them to 63.?

Tabor shot 35.4 percent from the field in the game (23-65), including 31 percent from three (9-29). Northwestern, meanwhile, shot 42.9 percent from the field (24-56), including 20 percent from three (3-15).

Northwestern?s Alli Engebretson led all scorers with 21 points. Samantha Kleinsasser added 16 for the Red Raiders and Hutson 13. Dean led Tabor with 14 points. Zuercher added 11.

This was Tabor?s fifth appearance in the championships, and first since 2007.

Northwestern, meanwhile, was making its ninth-straight appearance in the championships, 13th overall, and has never lost in the first round. The Red Raiders have won the title five times.

Northwestern went on to defeat No. 5 Huntington 92-68 in the second round before falling to No. 7 College of the Ozarks 90-69 in the quarterfinals.

Tabor defeated College of the Ozarks, 65-62, last November.

Tabor concludes the season with a 21-11 record, and Reed said he is pleased with the way his team has progressed.

?I?m really proud of the way we came together at the end of the season,? he said. ?I felt like we played as good as any team in the country the last two weeks of our season.?

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